Over the past 10 years, I have probably redone my classroom library five times as I looked for the best and easiest way to organize my large collection of books. At the beginning of this school year, I had no intention of redoing my library again. After seeing some cute new blue and green bins at the dollar store, however, I couldn't resist changing up my library one more time. The system I'm using now is one that has been tweaked many times over the years, and I think this latest incarnation's a keeper.
For their independent reading time (IDR), students are asked to select books that are in their "just right" reading range. Although all of my book baskets were labeled for genre and more than 75 percent of my books have a guided reading level written on them thanks to Scholastic Book Wizard, students were still spending a great deal of time shopping for books that both interested them and were at their appropriate level. I decided to change my basket labeling system to better reflect what my students were looking for when searching for a good book. Here is how I manage my library in a few simple steps.
Fiction is broken into several categories, such as "Fiction: Girl Main Character," "Fiction: School Setting," "Fiction: Sports Theme," etc. This gives students more information and allows them to go directly to a basket that matches their interests.
Nonfiction is also divided further to reflect the content area covered. Categories might include "Nonfiction: Life Science" or "Social Studies: Geography."
Book baskets for series books are no longer labeled, saving me time printing and laminating. Each basket only contains books from that series, and series baskets are all stored in the series area of our library. Students can tell what's in the basket by simply looking at it. I think I finally realized that I had never had a student look inside a basket filled with Flat Stanleys or Cam Jansens and ask, "What books are these?"
Each book is labeled with an adhesive sticker that matches the tag on the basket where the book belongs. This helps students easily put books back in their place.
Author baskets are labeled with the same label that goes on the book jackets, and they're stored on the same bookshelf so students can locate their favorite author easily. These baskets are especially great when I recommend an author I think a student may enjoy or when a student discovers an author he likes and then wants to read every one of the author's books. Students have even asked to take home whole author baskets during breaks!
Guided reading levels are written on the top edge of my books in permanent marker. Students can easily find their level when browsing through a basket without having to take the books completely out to look at the side or back.
For years I have expended great amounts of time and energy keeping my book boxes organized. Even though every single basket is labeled, and every book has a label that matches its basket, students would still carelessly toss books in the wrong bin or put them in backwards or upside down. I'm not sure why that bugs me so much, but it does! Having classroom helpers in charge didn’t help much, either. This year, however, I had a stroke of pure genius.
I assigned every single student one or two baskets that they are in charge of for the entire year. Handing over “ownership” of the baskets has made a world of difference. Students do not want anyone “messing up” their basket. It’s not uncommon now to overhear students saying things like, “Hey, who put a Geronimo Stilton in my Magic Tree House?” as they put the offending book back where it belongs. A list of who “owns” what basket is posted on one of the bookcases for quick and easy reference. My classroom library has never been as neat and organized as it's been since I started this in October.
I think everybody has their own personal style when it comes to organizing their classroom library, and you need to find the method that works best for you and your class. I gave up trying to track, record, and catalog every book I own long ago, even though some of my colleagues were doing it; it was much too much work for me without enough payoff. I like things easy! The method I've settled on, at least for now, is one that is simple to manage and easy for my students to navigate, and best of all, it's working! Please share what you are doing with your classroom library in the comments section below.